Despite your stance on the ethics of radio-collaring wild animals, it can’t be denied that such endeavors provide scientists with reams of valuable data, such as information on where and how animals move and migrate, the nuisance activity they engage in, their reproduction and mortality rates, and how to establish wise management practices regarding them.
That’s why when a collared research animal is lost, it’s not just a detriment to that animal’s social group or species but to our understanding of nature, as well.
Usually, the death of a collared animal goes unnoticed, except within a few scientific circles. But when Wolf No. 754, a popular Yellowstone National Park research animal, was recently shot by a hunter in Wyoming’s Shoshone National Forest, a few miles outside the national park boundary, reverberations and outrage were felt around the world.
It’s causing some to ask: Should research animals be given full, legal protection?
Predation — even by human animals — is natural …
These days, with so much research being conducted on wild animals, there’s a good possibility that a hunter will run into a wolf, bear, deer or elk that is wearing a radio collar. That then becomes the dilemma that almost every hunter will eventually have to face: While it’s not illegal to shoot a collared animal in most states, is it acceptable? Should a hunter take an animal out of a research program by shooting it and thus stop the flow of information that the animal provides?
There is a good argument for considering a human hunter just another part of nature and a participant in the eternal food chain. As a human animal, if you eat meat — whether it comes wrapped in cellophane from the grocery store or dragged directly out of the woods — you are a hunter. So when a hunter legally harvests an animal just as any other large predator might, it should be a normal part of the research statistics, whether that animal had a collar on it or not. After all, collared animals are not looked at any differently by their other predators.
And in Montana, generally, any one of Yellowstone National Park’s wolves that crosses the park’s boundary during hunting and trapping season is legally considered fair game.
… But targeting collared animals is not
But while killing collared animals is legal, choosing to shoot one not only means lost data for scientists but wastes the money that is available for research. A collar with GPS technology costs $4,000. But it’s not just the cost of a potentially lost collar that is at stake. There’s the cost of getting the collar on the animal, which includes biologists’ time, plus a helicopter and crew. And without the data that collared animals provide, there would be no way to set reasonable hunting quotas, which makes hunting seasons possible in the first place.
What some find most disturbing surrounding the story of Wolf No. 754, however, is that of the nine or ten wolves killed by hunters in 2012 that spent some or most of their time inside Yellowstone National Park, seven wore collars — compared with fewer than three in ten wolves that wear collars in the general park population. Also, of eleven wolves in the newly formed Junction Butte pack, only the collared wolf was shot. While collared wolves roam throughout the Rockies, it’s almost as if around Yellowstone, collared wolves are being targeted.
It’s estimated that a half-million people were familiar with Wolf No. 754. Most of this radio-collared animal’s life played out in front of binoculars and spotting scopes inside a park visited by more than three million people annually. The New York Times reported that Doug McLaughlin, a 65-year-old lodge manager in Silver Gate, Montana, watched this wolf mature from a clumsy yearling into a “regal sentinel with a sonorous howl who scoured the valley floor to rescue lost pups.” Many felt losing 754 was like hearing about the death of a friend.
Although some would like to make shooting collared animals illegal in all states, others prefer the model used in Minnesota. While it is legal to shoot collared black bears in Minnesota, hunters are specifically asked not to do so.
Do you think that collared wildlife should be fair game, or should culling them be illegal in all states? Or, is a middle ground possible, where buffer zones — with strict limits on hunting and trapping — are created around the parks and reserves where collared animals roam?
Feature photo: It seems that with any issue that has a wolf at the center of it, emotions run high. ©Henry H. Holdsworth